Second-gen Philips Hue bulbs are here, and they promise to be better and brighter than the originals. Click through to see how they stack up against the first-gen bulbs -- and against the closest color-changing competitor.
First up, let's look at the bulbs at their default settings. That's the original Philips Hue bulb on the left and the new Philips Hue "White and Color" on the right. This soft white color temperature is the default setting for the bulbs -- as you can see they look almost identical.
The original Hue bulb shines at a maximum of 600 lumens -- at this setting, it puts out just under 550. The new bulb promises to go up as high as 800 lumens, but not at this soft white, default setting. It's a little brighter than the original, but only slightly.
Now let's add in the Lifx LED, one of Hue's closest competitors. From left to right, you're looking at the original Hue bulb, the new Hue bulb, and the Lifx bulb. All three are set to their lowest color temperature, which should yield a warm, orangey, candle-like glow. Again, the Hue bulbs look more or less identical, and both seem to do a little better than Lifx here.
Here's that default setting again -- this time with Lifx for comparison. The three look pretty close -- but note that the Lifx, which can shine at up to 1,100 lumens, is only set to 50 percent. Anything higher would start adding in white-light diodes for a brighter tone.
Now, let's crank the bulbs up a bit, to something a lot hotter than that 2,700 K default. We're up around 4,000 K now -- not quite bluish, but bordering on white daylight. This is where the new Hue bulb shines the brightest, peaking at about 750 lumens.
Next, let's take a look at those RGB diodes. First up, red. No problems here. And again, the Lifx is set at 50 percent. Going higher than that would add in the white-light diodes to "tint" the light, giving us something brighter, but also more pinkish.
Here's yellow. The yellow diodes are particularly strong in both the old and new Hue bulbs, so it gets the slight edge in this test.
Now, the blue test. The photo looks pretty good across the board, but the Hue bulbs both have a purplish quality to their blue settings that doesn't photograph very well.
Here's the same shot from a different camera. You can sort of see what I'm talking about, but again, it's a lot easier to see in person.
Here's the new Hue bulb set to blue in our lighting lab's integrating sphere. In this shot, it's a lot easier to see that purplish tone.
The reason for that purplish tone? It's all about the diodes. The original Hue bulbs only have two blue diodes, and on their own, they aren't strong enough to put out a satisfying amount of blue light. So, Philips augments the blue setting with a little bit of red, which pushes things slightly toward the purple part of the spectrum. The new Hue bulbs have the same problem.
For comparison, here's a look inside Lifx. All of those "B" diodes are for blue light. There's enough there for Lifx to put out a very pure-looking tone at the blue setting.
For an even clearer comparison of how these bulbs handle blue, take a look at the cyan, or light blue setting. Lifx gets there just fine, but the Hue bulbs simply can't. Instead, they pour in the white diodes.
The blue problem comes up again at the green setting. The Lifx bulb puts out a bold, striking tone, but the Hue bulbs get washed out with yellow. It's a legitimate disappointment that Philips didn't add a few extra blue diodes into the new bulbs.
Things look a little dim for Hue at the purple setting, because it's a color that doesn't use Hue's strongest asset -- its yellow diodes. Even at 50 percent brightness, the Lifx bulb is the clear winner here.
The takeaway? Philips Hue bulbs are fine for basic color-changing fun, but they get beat by the competition at certain tones. If the second-gen bulb was an opportunity for improved color accuracy, it's one that Philips missed.